For those playing at home, who is John Brodie?
I was told not too long ago someone with many nicknames is a well-loved person. I’ve got a few nicknames so I consider myself a lucky one. I am an artist, a lonely cowboy of the west, a writer, a lover, staring mental illness in the face, a dog dad, and photographer. I enjoy colors and whiskey, laughter and authenticity. Surfing is fun. When I was in the first grade I had a pet Gecko named Carter. His whole life was spent hiding in my shirt pocket from teachers, until the pet parade when he marched and danced flaunting his purple spots to the town.
How did you find yourself living out of your car?
In 2014, I had just moved back to the U.S. from Sweden, spent all of my change on a truck and put it in motion. It was a choice. I could have very well settled in a home and worked a long-term job.
Describe your truck for us.
A conqueror of the slow lane, Clifford is a 1985 Toyota pickup with a rebuilt 22re motor. I think it would run without oil. Japanese machinery during that era was pure magic. Last year, I added a 36’’ tall aluminum welded camper shell. A Thule box helped storage on top. I built a plywood box bed frame and bought a memory foam mattress for cheap. If I close my eyes I can puzzle all of the gear in the right place.
What was is it like those first few months living on the road? Run me through a average day in your life back then.
Strange. The first week or so was spent behind a Donut Shoppe in North County San Diego. At 4 am the smell of frying donuts would wrap the truck up in a glazed blanket. I remember dreaming about donuts more than a few times. Then one night, I woke up to sirens and screeching tires and yelling. I peeked out of my window to find a man wrestled to the ground and cuffed just beside my right tire. The same technique you would use with a runaway alligator. In fear I’d get busted, I don’t think I took a breath the whole time. I moved on to another location after that but my clothes smelled of maple bars for months.
Where were you spending most your time?
After the Donut Shoppe alligator wrestle, it was obvious that the way to commit to this is to always be in motion. I began in San Diego, California and the map I’d say was the west Oregon to Mexico. However the place I think of when I look back into living on the road is Big Sur. The purest of stories come flying out from the mountains there. In one evening, I saw the most memorable sunset of my life, was stung by a yellow jacket, and nearly struck by lightning. Things that make you feel alive. I can rattle of many weird and wild stories here…
Tell me about how ended with a dog and how he enriched your experience.
I rescued Smokey the Cowyote just a few months into truck living. He was an Arizona desert stray. Without a doubt the best thing I ever did. Don’t get me wrong it was heavy at times; raising a pup in a truck is difficult. I made a promise to him when he first sat in my passenger seat that we were going to do this together. A dog only sees the world that you show him and man, if he could sit at the pub with his dog friends and talk story. I feel safe with him around, he’s earned the nickname “Sheriff” wearing a badge and growling at any potential impostors. In Mexico he became known as Pulpo Feliz, which, in Spanish is Happy Octopus. I don’t remember why.
We tend to really romanticise the idea of being "free" and living on the road in contemporary culture. Were there times when you felt misplaced or lonely being on the road?
If your goal is to swoon women or curate a persona that glorifies living in your car than go right ahead, just please remember to wash out the plastic jug you pee in every morning. I made this choice – to hold hands with the loose grip of freedom, to open my arms to an embrace of all possible futures, to find a shoulder to cry on and to create something beautiful maybe even a memory. I made an attempt to sprint away from my depression and I learned rather quickly that these things throw seat belts on and travel with you. Okay, one Friday night in Santa Cruz, California comes to mind: A little tattered and tired I pull into town and park on a street near a popular restaurant. It starts raining lightly and I sneak in a page or two of headlamp reading. I turn the light off every time a happy family skips and jumps down the street toward me. They Speak of the strawberry shortcake they ate moments before and now after passing my window, I switch the light back on to read. Flicking a light on and off and removing myself from the world- it is as beautiful as it is lonely.
How long in total were you on the road and did you have a favourite place you spent time during those years?
2.5 years. Please remember I have friends who have been living in a car for decades. I happen to be a sensitive person and my truck living can sometimes feel longer and/or shorter than a few years.
What was your favourite thing about having your life on four wheels?
Coming into a town after a long journey to find an evening fire in your friend’s backyard and sitting down with a cold beer followed by a hot shower in the morning.
You have now settled down to a house for the first time in a while, how does it feel to have a bedroom and backyard?
Also strange but I am re-learning how to take care of myself in a structure that doesn’t move. Running water and electricity are fantastic inventions and I am learning how to cook. I began printing photographs and making art and writing more. A home is a place to brew a cup of tea, change into the clothes you feel like wearing and to get shit done (things not easy in a car). The pup is happy to have a yard with chickens to protect and gophers to hunt. I wonder if he misses sniffing the far away bushes of the road. Perhaps the other road pups can read his story through scent.
What do you miss about life on the road?
The grooves in peoples faces of a new town, singing while driving, finger-drawing with the window dirt, telling friends I’ll be there soon, surfing alone, the morning sound of an engine start in an empty place, evading police, dog in a sleeping bag, a sip of whiskey above the fog line, becoming friends with fear.
How long before you think you will end back out there?
Something to think about: The cowboy is the quintessential icon of the American west. A man who goes only alone and stays only a night or two before moving along; a life in constant motion and maybe some of us find that it is our culture that spurs a sense of wonder of what is on the other side of those distant rolling foothills. I don’t think I’ll go searching again soon but who knows really?
Did you learn any personal coping methods for the bouts of depression you had? I imagine it can't be easy when a lot of the time it's just you and your dog?
I used to run away from home with my skateboard. I’ve dealt with it since I could remember. I still haven’t found my go-to coping method for depression and I think its okay to not have the perfect answer. Lately, I have been thinking about death and it’s soothing to know we all have that in common. Anything that requires the present moment is the best thing to welcome mental illness. Benevolence, surfing and writing a poem are some of my latest favourites. My dog is a die hard and dedicated little smiley rascal.
For those thinking about packing it all up in the hope of finding something for them out on the road, what would you say if they asked your advice?
Once again, I am not the expert. But I can chip in a little here.
1. Remain in touch with friends and family
2. It’s cool to talk to yourself
3. Always have a spare tire
4. Keep a journal
5. Leave at dawn
6. Listen to “Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd
Is Clifford still your daily driver?
Yes, but running rough as of late, even with the empty truck bed. Civilization is an adjustment for us all I guess. 5th gear on the freeway is home for Clifford and not insecure when topping out at 60 mph. The dog and I have been skateboarding around town as a form of relief.
Where you grew up?
The street where the Grateful Dead formed as a band.
What happened when you left school?
I dropped out of college in 2012 and moved to Hawaii. From 2013 -2014 I lived in Gothenburg Sweden. How I ended up there is another story but I started writing and collaborating with some publications there. Finding waves in the Baltic Sea and learning the language are highlights.
Where was life heading before you hit the road?
I’m honestly not sure. (I could go into more depth about the Sweden thing. It’s better over a phone call) I’ve never really written it.